Surrounded by his henchmen, a man in costume tortures a prisoner while fighting with his own subconscious in Victor De Almeida’s graphic novel-inspired thriller ‘M’.
Could a filmmaker time things as perfectly as Victor De Almeida has done this week? Merely days before one of 2022’s most anticipated releases opens in cinemas, Matt Reeve’s new Batman movie, he gives us his short film ‘M’ which not only brings to mind Christopher Nolan’s own Batman opus The Dark Knight but also taps into Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
De Almeida doesn’t make things easy for himself here, as not only is M a clear homage to two of modern pop culture’s most classic films, he has also decided to call his short film M, directly referencing German director Fritz Lang’s ‘M’ – a bona fide masterpiece from 1931 starring Peter Lorre as a child killer. Lang’s M is credited with completely reinventing cinema by creating two brand new genres, the serial killer movie, and the police procedural. It takes some real guts to blatantly riff on classic cinema, so with all that in mind we already know De Almeida isn’t short of confidence because you certainly don’t go up against 90 years of cinematic history without having some real self-belief. But Is De Almeida right to back himself or is his self-confidence completely misplaced?
De Almeida’s M is a terrific movie and although it begs, borrows, and steals from far more famous films, he manages to make M into his own original piece of work, and in doing so showcases his ability as a hugely talented film director. An 8-minute masterclass that is full of tension, terror, and interesting dialogue, it owes equally to both Nolan and Kubrick. There is also time for a few characterful costumed giggles and a clever twist you may or may not see coming.
From the moment our antagonist enters the screen and dances his way down some steps with his cane in hand, we are immediately reminded of Jim Carrey’s camp yet effective Riddler. When the classical music starts and we move in closer, there is much more evil on show in his eyes and, due to the bowler hat, we see a lot of Malcolm MacDowell’s psychotic Alex and a little of Heath Ledger’s maniacal Joker. Toby Redpath gives a tremendously good if sometimes a little showy performance that is full of energy and malevolence. He is a Batman villain in all but name and he towers over the short; his ability to switch from puzzlement to full-blown evil is excellent.
Using a lot of handheld shaky-cam action, we are thrown right into the middle of the victim’s interrogation as well as our antagonist’s own mind. The cinematography by Alex Nicolaou is brilliantly fluid as we are quickly spun around in every direction throughout the empty warehouse. This causes dizziness and disorientation in the audience and we feel like we are on one long rollercoaster ride. Emily Bussell’s crisply busy edits are also effective in keeping the audience on their toes. The dark blue and grey colour scheme creates an ominous atmosphere while there are some really effective shots. The best one is when our antagonist ducks into another room and is bathed in orange light, he becomes enveloped by his own shadow. But there are great moments all throughout the short, Redpath’s entrance is memorable as are his henchmen. Tony Rusch’s music is very high quality and most definitely influenced by Hans Zimmer’s work on Nolan’s movies.
M is an enjoyably haunting film that, thanks to De Almeida’s strong direction, the intriguing writing that has more depth and poetry than we expect, and the exceptional technical quality on show, manages to leap beyond its homages to become an engrossing piece of work in its own right.
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